Jon Wells: Luke Thompson's focus will be on NRL after early St Helens departure
By Sky Sports Rugby League
Last Updated: 15/06/20 6:06pm
Jon Wells believes Luke Thompson will remain on good terms with St Helens after making an earlier-than-expected switch to NRL outfit Canterbury Bulldogs.
It was confirmed late last week that the prop was leaving the Super League champions for Australia with immediate effect, having originally been due to join the Bulldogs at the conclusion of the 2020 season.
Saints chairman Eamonn McManus stated Thompson's departure was down to the 25-year-old opting not to take part in the club's squad and staff pay reduction arrangement for this season which had been implemented to mitigate the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sky Sports rugby league expert Wells is in no doubt Thompson will be missed in the St Helens pack when the 2020 Super League campaign eventually resumes, but does not expect McManus' comments to sour his relationship with his hometown club.
"I think St Helens will certainly be disappointed to lose somebody of Luke Thompson's ability on the field, but it's a move that was coming anyway," Wells told the Golden Point Vodcast.
"This has been brought forward, arguably because of what Eamonn McManus is saying. I don't think Luke Thompson will be worried about it too much and I think they'll all be able to shake hands amicably at the end of it.
"Chairmen sometimes want to throw in the odd grenade here, there and everywhere, but I think Luke Thompson will be focused on a long career in the NRL.
He's looking at the Bulldogs here and following in the footsteps of the Burgess brothers and James Graham as two examples of forwards who have had long careers in the NRL.
Jon Wells on Luke Thompson
"Is there a way back for him at Saints? Does he want a way back at Saints? He's looking at the Bulldogs here and following in the footsteps of the Burgess brothers and James Graham as two examples of forwards who have had long careers in the NRL."
Thompson leaves Saints after seven years in the senior set-up, having been part of their Super League Grand Final triumphs in 2014 and 2019, along with claiming the Harry Sunderland Trophy in last year's victory at Old Trafford.
Wells, who also serves as director of rugby at St Helens' Super League rivals Castleford Tigers, understands Thompson's desire to go and test himself in the NRL along with the other players from these shores making their name Down Under at present.
"Any move in professional sport is about two things: It's about opportunity and it's about money, and you're naive if you think it isn't," Wells said. "This is a business, it's a short career for people and they need to earn the money when they can.
"I think what you can infer from Eamonn McManus' statement is there is an implication or potential undermining of his character, because it's suggesting he's not playing ball when the rest of the squad possibly are in terms of temporary salary reductions.
"I'm not sure how fair that is, but at the same time I'm sure he's not bothered about it because he's acclimatising on the other side of the world getting ready to pull on a Bulldogs shirt."
Thompson heads to Australia with the reputation of being the best prop in the world at present, something his former St Helens head coach Justin Holbrook - now in charge at NRL side Gold Coast Titans - concurred with.
The England and Great Britain international is not expected to make his bow for the Bulldogs until Round 9 at the earliest and is currently undergoing a 14-day quarantine as part of Australia's coronavirus prevention strategy.
He's got a very aggressive style of play which will suit the Bulldogs and the NRL.
Jon Wells on Luke Thompson
But Wells is confident Thompson has the ability to make a big impact in the NRL when he does finally get his opportunity.
"He's got some ability and some talent," Wells said. "He's played an awful lot of games for St Helens, he's a really durable front-rower, he's got plenty of carries in him, he's got big minutes in him and a big presence on the field as well.
"He's got a very aggressive style of play which will suit the Bulldogs and the NRL. Something else you always forget about Luke Thompson is he is quick.
"If he gets into open space, you're going to have a job reeling him in and pulling him down. It's a great opportunity for him and it's great for the national side as well."